Around the World in 12 Plates: China

Chinese Feast

Anyone who followed along when I made a new cookie every week for a year knows I love projects and themes. Partly because because it satisfies my mild OCD and also because it makes me cook more at home.  Despite having a food blog I struggle every week to cook at least 5 nights out of 7. My husband is an extremely picky eater and atrocious cook and the same dishes get rotated day after day.  And it’s boring. Really f$%@ing boring.  Which is why I’m more of a restaurant profiler than home cook nowadays. And as tempting as it is to order in or go out instead of cook it’s expensive and unhealthy. 

When I stumbled across Gabby Peyton’s blog post about her Around the World in 12 Plates adventure (read more about it here) I couldn’t have been at a more dejected place in my home cooking.  Could a challenge like this help me get back into the kitchen more and feel better about my talents? Whether I accomplish either of those things to the smallest degree I know I’m a step further than I was before. 

China is a perfect start. Or so I thought. At first glance you think you know all about Chinese cuisine.  Sadly what we really attribute to their culture has been westernized out the wazoo. What is assumed to be one style of cooking is actually broken down into eight modern cuisines based on where in the country you happen to be. Those are further broken down by towns and counties with unique ingredients and flavours that highlight both the dishes background and geography. It’s almost overwhelming when you think of the possibilities. 

Erase all ideas you have about what is “authentic” Chinese food.  A quick google search will educate you that you are in fact thinking about American-style.  Traditional dishes are not full of sweet, sticky sauces or oily, deep fried battered things. It’s fresh vegetables, quick cooking techniques and family style plates. It’s vibrant flavours and biting spice. 

Scallion Pancakes

Rumoured to be a favorite dish of Marco Polo and a possible inspiration for pizza (a loose rumour to be noted), scallion pancakes are a unleavened fried dough consisting of five simple ingredients; flour, water, salt, oil and scallions.  What can set this flatbread apart from others is your choice of dipping sauce. I used this foolproof recipe from The Kitchn and a simple mixture of teriyaki, soy sauce, honey and rice vinegar to create a sweet and sour dipping sauce. These savoury pancakes are perfect for sopping up sauces from main dishes and are extremely addictive.

General Tso Chicken

In my research to find some dishes to try I was surprised to see one dish, General Tso Chicken as being loosely authentically Chinese.  While North America has adopted it and adapted to our more basic tastebuds it is still a very simple dish to pull together at home. It has long been argued how this recipe came to be; whether it was named for a Hunan General or by a chef in one of the many municipalities in the country. Either way it is a wonderfully spicy dish using ingredients that are easy to find and may already be in your cupboard. I used the recipe from The Kitchn and substituted chicken instead of tofu and by not deep frying the chicken and bumping up the vegetables you have a flavourful and healthy dish.

I am not the only one who was drawn to this intriguing challenge.  Not knowing the next country until it is announced  at the beginning of each month obviously sparked the adventurous side of some other great bloggers as well.  Check out their links below and see what they discovered on their voyage through China.  And I look forward to you guys following along each month as I discover my inner culinary traveller.

Dish ’n’ the Kitchen: https://dishnthekitchen.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/chinese-red-cooked-beef-around-the-world-in-twelve-plates/ 

My Organic Diaryhttp://my-organic-diary.com/2017/01/crispy-tofu-rice-bowl/

All Things Nice! https://lifeisaboutallthingsnice.blogspot.ca/2017/01/asian-stir-fry-quinoa.html 

SugarLovesSpiceshttp://www.sugarlovespices.com/eggplant-asian-salad/ 

Korena in the Kitchen: http://korenainthekitchen.com/?p=9409 

The Food Girl in Town: http://thefoodgirlintown.com/2017/01/30/around-the-world-in-12-plates-china/  

The Twelve Days of Unique Gift Giving

We all have that one friend or family member that makes the holidays a time of fear instead of cheer. That one that has it all; the impossible to buy for.  But what if you could be the giver of all gifts? The VIP of future party invitations? This guide has you covered.

Day 1: The Drinker

Photo 2 The Drinker

You could wrap up another set of shot glass or cutesy wine tags that will undoubtedly be regifted next year (and knowing your forgetful aunt, right back at you). Or you can give then their own DIY Gin Kit. Know someone who likes to bring along a “traveller”? Let them blend in with all the other tech savvy social media whores with a portable iFlask while movie buffs can stun with drinks topped with a ripple ice cubes made from their new Jurassic molds. And who doesn’t love that house on Halloween that provides “treats” for the parents? Next year be the talk of the hood by tapping your pumpkin and serving them…well Pumpkin Ale of course.

Day 2: The Decorator

Photo 3 The Decorator

Animal print and faux fur are so yesterday (I think). For those people in your life that make Architectural Digest look like Good Housekeeping it can be excruciating to find the right gift. Bookends and throw pillows can easily be dull choices unless you get design creative like with these vintage cameras prints or kitschy Shot Out of a Cannon props. Those who like industrial motifs won’t be able to resist Fire Escape or Suspension Bridge shelving and for the steam punk fan in your life a Gear Toggle Switch will have them flipping on and off all day.

Day 3: The Fashionista

Photo 4 The Fasionista

Try as we might leggings are not going away. Or people wearing them. Luckily there are Cute Tights available (batman, bunnies) that may sway people in the right direction.  Cuff links are always a popular gift and if you have a techie friend who goes to meetings a lot these USB ones are perfect. And don’t we all have a bowtie wearing friend in our immediate circle? Snazzy them up with a cool Wooden Ties this holiday season. There are many grains to choose from. And if you know someone brave enough to rock Dinosaur Earrings, then hold on to them…they are the best people ever.

Day 4: The Sporty Spice

Photo 5 The Sporty Spice

There are three types of sporty spices in my opinion. The ones that do; making days of the week Undies For Runners perfect for slipping under their tree. The ones that watch; Stadium Cufflinks fit perfectly in their stockings. And finally the ones that try. They like to do it differently so Axe Throwing gift cards will be well received.

Day 5: The Foodie

Photo 6 The Foodie

The Foodie is probably the hardest to buy for.  They are the restaurant regulars, baker extraordinaire or cordon bleu inspired home cook. You can’t go wrong if you give them any kind of Make-It-Yourself  or Grow-It-Yourself kits like mushrooms and cheese. For the more sentimental foodie jewellery now comes with cooking-centric themes like a Cleaver Necklace or Gadget Charms. And to really impress spend a little extra and get something one of a kind for them like Personalized Rolling Pins.  You will be surprised how quickly and how often baked goods with your friends name on it will be heading your way.

Day 6: The Geek

Photo 7 The Geek

Buying for your lovable yet aloof geek family member or friend can be a lot of fun. Partly because what you find usually connects with your own inner geek but mostly because the selection is so broad. Star Wars fanatics can never leave there chair again for a trip to the kitchen with this Han Solo Carbonite Mini Fridge. Video gamers can enjoy the nostalgia of the classic by decorating their game room with a Question Mark Lamp. Fans of board games and puzzles will enjoy hours of fun with the Awkward Moment’s Card Game or the a mind boggling Japanese Mystery Box. Creative types can adorn their desks with a  pair of Nun-Chuck Pens and the just plain weird can enjoy a refreshing shower using their new Caffeinated Soap.

Day 7: The Movie Buff

Photo 8 The Movie Buff

Isn’t there a big movie coming out this year? Maybe you know someone who stayed up all night to get tickets to see it before everyone else. Why not have that memory preserved with a Pillow of their Ticket Stub? And a movie buff with kids? A Hobbit Hole Playhouse is a great way to get them out of the house while they enjoy a film in their Movie Projector Lamp decorated living room. And guys? guys? Hey you guys…..Goonies Vinyl Figures.

Day 8: The Audiophile

Photo 9 The Audiophile

Have a loved one who tears up to a certain song? Get the sound waves created into a Beautiful Canvas or Piece of Jewellery. Anyone who lives with a guitar player knows that you can never have enough picks so give them a Pick Punch. Hotel keyes may never be returned from that point on but think of all the picks you’ll find in the laundry. Creative types might enjoy making their own instrument so start small with a Ukulele Kit. And does sweet smooth jazz sound different in a Gourd Amp? Gift one to find out.

Day 9: The Outdoorsman

Photo 10 The Outdoorsman

Being outdoors doesn’t have to mean peeing in a bush or fighting off bears.  With fun gifts like Decorative Tents, Glow in the Dark Bocce and The Ice Cream Ball (yes! it makes ice cream while you play with it) even I may be convinced to sleep under the stars. (no not really). And for the hardcore survivor man in your circle, gift them the Life Straw. No parasites for this guy!

Day 10: The Pet Owner

Photo 11 The Pet Owner

Pet owners are a breed onto themselves. Obsessed with their fur-babies being as close to human as possible they shower them with sweaters and treats galore. Surprise these people with gifts that show you get it. Truly get it! Do they carry them around everywhere? The Bubble Carrier is perfect. Declare their breed is superior? A Blueprint will bolster their argument. And don’t forget the feeling of the pets themselves? DJ Fuzzy Paw will enjoy his new Scratching Pad while the shortest member of your family can still feel a part of this world with Fence Bubble Windows.

Day 11: The Techie

Photo 12 The Techie

The Techie’s are the coolest people in our circle.  And they deserve some cool things this holiday season. Like Color Sensing Robots and Invisible Speakers. Or the kick-assiest Paper Airplane you’ll ever make. On a more practical side they are sure to enjoy a Instant iPhone Photo Printer or Nanotips, a gel you can put on the ends of you mittens to make using your smart phone a piece of cake.

Day 12: The Traveller

Photo 13 The Traveller

And finally you have the traveller in your life.  The final gift to be given. The person you are probably the most jealous of. Unless of course you are that person. World traveller? How about a Scratch Map to make everyone envious of your life. Road Tripper? The Briefcase BBQ will give you a break from fast food joint and hot dog stands. The economy classer wishing they were First Class? A carry on Cocktail Kit will impress even the flight crew. And for that traveller who has black luggage like the rest of the world population? A Bike Chain Luggage Tag should help you snag your bag with more confidence.

Whether you are buying for someone else or giving ideas for what you want this year I’m sure there is an item or two on this list that will find its way into Santa’s bag.